“Smell the sea, and feel the sky, let your soul and spirits fly.”
– Van Morrison
Carmel-by-the-Sea is one of our favorite and romantic Bay Area getaways. Renowned for its picturesque white-sandy beach and beautiful cypress trees, Carmel also has a myriad of cozy inns, quaint specialty shops, upscale art galleries, fine jewelry stores, and gourmet restaurants. It’s also home to some of the world’s best golf courses. Be sure to take the world-famous 17-Mile Drive. Its scenic coastal route hugs the rocky coastline between Carmel and Pacific Grove, offering visitors some of the best views on the planet.
Fun Carmel Attractions
Carmel is a shopper’s paradise. Although Ocean Avenue is the most popular with shoppers, we prefer Carmel’s little side streets and its secluded courtyards and alleyways. They’re crammed with quaint specialty shops, boutiques, jewelry stores, art galleries, restaurants and coffee shops. Visit Carmel Mission, one of the oldest buildings in Carmel Valley. Carmel Mission and its historic church is one of the most popular sites of pilgrimage in the United States for visitors from around the world. Take a leisurely walk or jog along Carmel’s beautiful Scenic Road, located just off the far end of Ocean Avenue. Its walking path begins at Eighth Avenue, about a five-minute walk from the beginning of Scenic Road. The road overlooks Carmel’s beach and coastline, and as you can imagine, the ocean views are absolutely breathtaking. Nearby attractions include: Monterey, Cannery Row, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monarch Butterflies in Pacific Grove, Point Lobos State Reserve, and Big Sur.
Point Lobos State Reserve Hiking Trails
Wait until you see the breathtaking views from the hiking trails at Point Lobos, located on the central coast of California in Monterey County. It’s a great place for hiking and Guided Nature Walks. During our visits there, we’ve seen sea otters, sea lions, whales, whale bones, birds and even encountered a family of deer. The area’s magnificent coastline, Cypress trees and Pacific Ocean views (especially at sunset) are almost beyond description. The entrance is approximately three miles south of Carmel on Highway 1. Most of the hiking trails at Point Lobos are easy-moderate and take about 30 minutes, or 45 minutes to an hour with stops along the way. Be sure to give the deer the “right of way” on all hiking trails.
Cypress Grove Trail
Named for all of its beautiful Cypress trees, this is one of the most popular and scenic trails at Point Lobos. After hiking it you’ll see why. It is also one of only two places in the world where wild Monterey Cypress trees can be found; the other is in Del Monte Forest. The 17-Mile Drive is the main road through the Del Monte Forest and the Lone Cypress Tree is along that route. This amazing hike takes you through coastal scrub and woods to cliffs with dramatic and spectacular ocean views.
Sea Lion Point Trail
This fun trail includes cove overlooks and offers the best view of sea lions on the offshore rocks. You’ll no doubt hear them before you see them 🙂
Bird Island Trail
Bird Island trail gives you access to two sandy beaches, China Cove and its beautiful emerald waters and Gibson Beach. Note: Swimming and wading are allowed, but the water is icy-cold all year. The trail offers spectacular views of Bird Island (you’ll know it when you see it) and China Cove. Bird Island and its hundreds of birds reminded us of a scene in “Marching with the Penguins.” It’s quite spectacular, especially for bird-lovers. Bird Island becomes a large sea bird colony in Spring and Summer. Look for sea otters too.
17-Mile Drive – Pebble Beach
The 17-Mile Drive can be accessed from five Entry Gates located along different parts of the 17-mile loop. If you’re staying in Carmel, enter the 17-Mile Drive via the Carmel Gate (off Ocean & San Antonio, by the beach) and follow the route along the coast. You can also access this entry gate if you’re heading into Carmel from Hwy 1 (off Ocean Ave). Along the way, you’ll see magnificent homes, elegant resorts and world-famous golf courses – The Links at Spanish Bay, Spyglass Hill and the world-renowned Pebble Beach Golf Links. Vista points along the way offer spectacular views of Monterey Bay, its stunning coastline, Santa Cruz Mountains and Del Monte Forest.
Top 7 Favorite Spots for Picture-Taking Along the 17-Mile Drive
There are 21 Points of Interest listed on the 17-Mile Drive Map. If you don’t have time to see all of them, here are our Top 7 favorite spots for picture-taking along the route:
- Lone Cypress Tree – the legendary tree stands overlooking the rocky coastline and Pacific Ocean. It’s a beautiful sight, no matter what time of day. However, sunsets are really spectacular!
- Bird Rock – it’s a must-see, especially if you like birds, harbor seals and sea lions; there are hundreds of them!
- Ghost Tree – when you stop at Ghost Tree overlook, you’ll see right away how this area got its name.
- Spanish Bay – get a great view of surfers riding the waves. The scenic area features a short narrow boardwalk along the coast. Take a leisurely stroll, walk your dog and enjoy magnificent views of the Monterey coast.
- The Restless Sea – See firsthand why this area is called “The Restless Sea.” Its vista point ocean views are spectacular! Watch surfers in nearby Spanish Bay as they navigate their way through the crashing waves.
- Point Joe – Point Joe overlook has beautiful ocean and coastal views.
- Fanshell Overlook – famous for its small white sandy beach. It sits on one side of the scenic coastal overlook; crashing waves can be seen on the other side. Closed during harbor seal pupping season April 1-June 1.
Book Carmel & Monterey Sightseeing Tours, Day Trips and Fun Things To Do
Explore Carmel’s culinary delights on a Small-Group Food and Wine Walking Tour. Fun for foodies! Book an exciting Half-Day Whale-Watching Tour from nearby Monterey. As you cruise the Pacific Ocean, keep an eye out for whales, dolphins, sea lions and birds. Enjoy a 3-hour Electric Bike Tour along the magnificent 17-Mile drive and Monterey Bay Coastal Rec Trail from Pacific Grove.
Book Your Carmel Business Trip or Vacation
The Best Time To Visit Carmel
Its year-round temperate climate makes Carmel a great place to visit anytime of the year. Note that mornings can be foggy, especially during summer months. Dress in layers. FYI… it rarely rains between April and October. September and October are typically Carmel’s warmest months. Although during one of our visits in mid-January, temps reached a balmy 80! And during another visit in October, it was thick fog.